Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode One was disappointing. It was nice to be back in Rapture and spend a little bit of time with the city as it existed before crumbling prior to the events of the first Bioshock. But the combat was a little too familiar and the experience was over almost before it began, ending with an information dump/cliffhanger that made my head spin. If the plot had been doled out a little better over its running length, the abrupt ending would’ve been a little easier to stomach. Knowing that it was just the end of the first half of the experience and there would be a months-long wait for the second half just made the whole thing more aggravating.
Good thing, then, that Episode Two is so much better in just about every conceivable way.
I’m going to avoid talking about the plot as much as I can, because it deserves to be experienced without even minor spoilers. That said, Episode Two puts you in Elizabeth’s shoes for the first time, and it’s not just a voice-and-skin swap. She’s significantly more fragile than Booker, and has to rely on stealth to get her through most splicer-infested areas, especially on the game’s hard difficulty. She has a couple of new plasmids and weapons to help her in this endeavor, along with a stealth indicator that appears above her enemies, but none of it feels out of place, and the execution is consistently fun (and this is coming from someone who is generally terrible at stealth-based games).
Although I still essentially finished the game in a single sitting, it was a much longer sitting than I expected. I spent most of yesterday playing through it, and although I died a good bit (and this time out death is always permanent, another first for the series), most of the time I was moving forward, picking off splicers, listening to new audio diaries, and filling in previously-unexplained backstory for both the original Bioshock and Infinite. If creator Ken Levine had to retcon a lot of these details into the Bioshock mythology, you wouldn’t know it playing through Burial at Sea. It feels like this was always going to be the ending/beginning, a bridge between the two games that makes perfect sense of the jarring connection initially uncovered in the final moments of Bioshock Infinite.
Taken together as a whole, Burial at Sea is more than worth its rather high (for downloadable content) asking price. The ludonarrative dissonance that defines the entire series (why the hell am I sitting at a vending machine buying bullets when there are unhinged junkies all around? Why do I open up desks and drawers scrounging for money and eating and drinking everything in my path?) is still present, but so is the stellar writing and acting, which come together for another sucker punch of an ending. Just like when I finished the original story of Infinite, I stared at the credits scrolling by trying to process what I’d just seen for a few minutes.
I know that the world of Bioshock will continue to grow, but Burial at Sea feels like the end of an era (and considering the recent shuttering of Irrational Games, it most certainly is). I generally feel the same way about DLC that I do about bonus tracks on albums: sometimes good additions, but often unnecessary and almost always nonessential to the point of distraction. But this is different. If you’ve played both Bioshock and Infinite, and want to spend a little more time in Rapture figuring out what makes it tick and how it all came tumbling down, it is absolutely worth your time and money to pick up Burial at Sea.